Friday, March 30, 2007

Coffin Joe

In my previous post, I namechecked José Mojica Marins aka Zé do Caixão aka Coffin Joe. For either the benefit or the corruption (depending on your point of view) of my readership, here is some information on this eccentric artiste.

José Mojica Marins is the Brazilian director and lead actor of a series of low-budget horror films centering around a boogeyman figure called 'Zé do Caixão', which translates as "Joseph of the Grave'. Zé is better known in the anglophone world as 'Coffin Joe'. Zé is a folkloric, almost mythical figure, a cultural symbol rather than a realistic 'character': always dressed in black, with a long black cape, a black top hat, a black beard, piercing eyes and impractically, ridiculously long fingernails.

From the early 1960's on, Marins produced tens of films about the 'Zé do Caixão' character. All films explicitly portray truly Sadean scenes of torture, filmed with such a psychopathological sense of delirium that the films can be regarded as outsider art. From the 'Aurum Film Encyclopedia - Horror' : "... the shoestring production exudes a genuine sense of madness, both in it's imaginings and the treatment of it's participants, with the eccentric, seemingly out-of-control staging veering from the pathological to the surreal".

Like all cultural symbols, Zé do Caixão is multivocal: he is Sadean, anti-religious and blasphemic as well as carnivalesque and fundamentally catholic, he is evil as well as just, he is cruel yet loves children. This multivocality is also evident in his film style, which combines influences of Westerns, serials, fumetti-style comics and melodramatic lovestories as well as horror films (especially the classic Universal monster movies). It is these internal contradictions which make the Coffin Joe films a highly intriguing series.

As the anthropologist Victor Turner wrote in "Dramas, Fields And Metaphors. Symbolic Action In Human Society" cultural symbols such as Zé do Caixão must be regarded as originating in and sustaining processes of temporal change, not as timeless entities. When the Zé do Caixão films were made, Brazil was a military dictatorship, and thousands of Brazilians were deported, imprisoned, tortured, or murdered, while official censorship led many artists into exile. It was a time of deep political crisis, in which the State was at least as cruel and vindictive as the Coffin Joe, but far more hypocritical. It is against this backdrop that the Zé do Caixão films must be understood.

Here is a link to his offical web site.
Here is a link to his IMDB page.
Here is a link to his Wikipedia page.
Here is a link to an interview with Marins originally published in Psychotronic magazine.
Here is a link to an interview with Marins in Filmmaker Magazine.

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